This article is adapted from The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition" Socialism , published in March by Verso.
If there's one constant in the elite national discourse of the moment, it is the claim that America was founded as a capitalist country and that socialism is a dangerous foreign import that, despite our unwarranted faith in free trade, must be barred at the border. This most conventional "wisdom" -- increasingly accepted at least until the recent grassroots mobilizations in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Maine -- has held that everything public is inferior to everything private, that corporations are always good and unions always bad, that progressive taxation is inherently evil and that the best economic model is the one that allows the wealthy to gobble up as much of the Republic as they choose before anything trickles down to the great mass of Americans. Rush Limbaugh informs us regularly that proposals to tax people as rich as he is for the purpose of providing health care for kids and jobs for the unemployed are "antithetical" to the nation's original intent and that Barack Obama's reforms are "destroying this country as it was founded."
When Obama offered tepid proposals to organize a private health-care system in a more humane manner, Sean Hannity of Fox charged that "the Constitution was shredded, thwarted, the rule of law was passed aside." Newt Gingrich said the Obama administration was "prepared to fundamentally violate the Constitution" and was playing to the "30 percent of the country [that] really is [in favor of] a left-wing secular socialist system."